National Alliance model charter school law excludes charter-traditional school compact

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has come up with a revised version of its 2009 model charter school law that covers a plethora of topics relevant to these innovative educational institutions.  The goal of the document is “to create a model charter public school law that is grounded in principle, flexible enough to serve in a wide variety of state policy environments, and well-supported by research.”  The authors point out that the blueprint is most applicable to the seven states that currently lack a charter school law.  It is not going to work.

My experience this summer in attending the Amplify School Choice conference sponsored by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity taught me about some key components that must be included in such a framework.  The meeting, which included myself and 49 other bloggers, was meant to introduce us to the theory of school choice, but for someone like me who thinks about this subject on a daily basis, it really changed my approach to the subject.

The session was held in Denver and the location was was no accident.  It turns out that this city has the academically fastest growing public schools in the nation.  But it was not the test scores that captured my attention.

We heard from a wide variety of speakers.  No matter whether the individual at the front of the room was from the political right, left, or middle, or even if her or she had no specific ideological position, they shared one common attribute.   They were all committed to the fostering of an educational marketplace.

Uniformly they stated that they had come to this conclusion because in the recent past the schools had been doing such a poor job educating students.  But I came to understand that there was perhaps a more fundamental reason for their viewpoint.  The Denver school choice model is based upon an educational collaborative compact.

As I have written about before, the compact spells out specifically how the charter schools and Denver Public Schools will work together for the benefit of the students they serve.  It has requirements specifically for charters and also for the regular schools.  The document also spells out how the two sectors will work together, which includes promotion of each others work.

I have made the point that Washington D.C. desperately needs such an agreement.  Failure of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools to include an outline of such a compact in its model school law will lead to the battles over charters that have been witnessed throughout the United States.  The paper should go back to the drawing board.

New DCPS Chancellor must expand charter school sector

The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews today has a column in which he calls on the replacement for DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson to protect charter schools in the nation’s capital.  Never mind that this position has absolutely no power over these dynamic institutions that teach over 39,000 children, or 44 percent of all pupils that attend pubic schools in the nation’s capital.

Thank goodness that this is the case.  Remember years ago that once Harmony PCS opened across the street from an existing DPCS facility, when it was desperate to find space and after it had begged the city for help finding a building and representatives had met with Ms. Henderson seeking collaboration; the Chancellor referred to the move as cannibalizing her pupils.  Unfortunately, her attitude never really changed, as evidenced by this interview with Alexander Russo about a month ago:

Mr. Russo:  “What’s wrong with having two systems for parents to choose from?”

Ms. Henderson: “We’re paying twice as much for not very different outcomes. I think that it’s not a good use of resources. We have experienced positive financial revenue in the city for the past 10 years, but if we were like a lot of other places, there’s no way that we would pay as much as we’re paying to support two different systems that are providing the same results. . . We are stepping on each others toes.”

What really has to happen is that the newly named Chancellor needs to help expand the charter sector.  Let’s take these logical steps.  First, as the chairman of the DC PCSB Dr. Darren Woodruff stated in my recent interview with him, we need to have one accountability system that measures the quality of all schools.  This means applying the Performance Management Framework to DCPS.  Then, those sites that are found to be Tier 3 are turned over to our highly performing charters.  In addition, perhaps we can finally convince strong charter management organizations from across the nation, who have been reluctant to come here because of the problem finding space, to operate these schools since they will already have permanent facilities.

Last week the PCSB released the lasted Quality School Reports for elementary and middle schools.  I’m really glad that so many charters are rated as Tier 1 or Tier 2.  However, in spite of these results, these are actually desperate times.  The 2016 PARCC standardized tests demonstrate that only about a quarter of charter and traditional school students are college ready.  The achievement gap between rich and poor is about 50 points.  Two decades of public school reform has produced students that are academically mediocre.  There are bright spots but the overall picture is bleak.

As Ms. Henderson concluded in her conversation with Mr. Russo:

“There’s so much more to accomplish. There are a bunch of things. We’re still not where I want to be on our scores, graduation rate, or equity across the district, or special education outcomes. All of those things are way better than when I got here. But there’s a lot more that I want for D.C. public schools.”

There is a lot more that we all want.

NAACP decides to regulate charter schools

Last Saturday the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People went ahead and ratified a resolution calling for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools.  In a cold effort to manipulate the movement that currently teaches 2.6 million students with another million on waiting lists, the organization listed four conditions under which it would reverse its latest decision.  They are:

(1) Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools
(2) Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system
(3) Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate and
(4) Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.

Never mind that the NAACP has never called for the closure of the traditional schools that have utterly failed for decades to educate the very people that this non-profit is supposedly serving.  This is clearly a complete capitulation to the teachers’ unions.  There can be no other explanation for a group opposing the heroes that have taken children that may have ended up in prison or dead and turned their lives around so that they are now going to college.

There is really nothing more to say.  It is a sad day.

We can no longer accept the academic achievement gap

Towards the end of this past summer Washington, D.C.’s annual public school PARCC standardized test scores were released and the academic achievement gap between white and poor students was unambiguously visible for all to see.  For example, when it came to English Language Arts for those students scoring in the college readiness range of four and five the variance between white and low-income children was 56 points.  In math the difference in results between these two groups was exactly the same.  White kids hit the 74 percent range while those living in poverty recorded a proficiency rate of 17 percent.  For the charter sector the disparity was smaller coming in at just under 50 percent for reading and math.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  One of the tremendous highlights of the Amplify School Choice Conference I attended last August sponsored by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity was a visit to the Denver School of Science and Technology.  DSST is a network of 12 Denver charter middle and high schools with an enrollment of approximately 5,000 children, with plans to grow to 22 schools educating 10,000 pupils.  64 percent of its scholars qualify for free or reduced priced meals. Once there, besides hearing from three impressive alumni students, one of whom is currently attending Yale University, we learned about the school from its founding principal and chief executive officer Bill Kurtz.   In 2016, Mr. Kurtz was inducted in the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s Charter School Hall of Fame.

I was instantly completely taken with Mr. Kurtz’s remarks.  He started his presentation to the 50 bloggers in the room by talking about the values that his charters endeavor to instill in its student body.  These include respect, courage, integrity, responsibility, curiosity, and doing your best.  Next he described the cooperation DSST promotes with the traditional school system.  Now, the DSST CEO was ready to review the most recent PARCC results.

For all Denver Public Schools, the quantity of students that scored college-ready on the PARCC exam was 67 percent.  But for low-income pupils the percentile that had the same result was only at 22.  This equates to a 45 percent disparity, somewhat narrower than that of D.C. charter schools.  However, the findings of DSST students were dramatically different.  At the charter school network 89 percent of pupils posted a four or five.  For low-income children the proficiency rate came in at 77 percent.  This means that the achievement gap was an impressively slim 12 percent.

What happened next was truly amazing.  Mr. Kurtz paused for what wasn’t but seemed like a full 60 seconds and looked around the room.  Then in a solemn voice he stated, “This twelve point difference is totally unacceptable to us.”

The mission of DSST “is to transform urban public education by eliminating educational inequity and preparing all students for success in college and the 21st century.”  Mr. Kurtz revealed that 100 percent of students from its high schools have been accepted to four year colleges or universities since the founding of the charter network nine years ago.  Perhaps when values are the first subject brought up in a lecture and the initial words that appear when visiting the school’s website, you can obtain academic results such as those of the Denver School of Science and Technology.

Basis PCS seeks to expand

At last night’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board Tom Nida received an Exceptional Service Award as I wrote about yesterday.  The ceremony was moving in that both Josephine Baker and Dr. Ramona Edelin, the executive director of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools, spoke on his behalf as well as other members of the board.  One major contribution that Mr. Nida made during his time as chair which was highlighted that I failed to mention was that it was under his tenure that 18 charters on 22 campuses that had been authorized by the D.C. Board of Education came under the control of the PCSB.

The evening’s session included a pubic hearing on a request by Rocketship PCS to open a second campus during the 2017 to 2018 school year in Ward 7.  The charter opened its first school this term in Ward 8 that will eventually serve students in grades Pre-Kindergarten three to fifth grade.  When Rocketship was first approved to open in the nation’s capital it was given permission to open eight campuses under specific conditions.  This planned expansion will also serve students in grades Pre-Kindergarten three to fifth grade.  Look for the proposed action to be approved at next month’s meeting.

The much more controversial agenda item was the charter amendment application by Basis PCS to open two new campuses enrolling an additional 936 students in grades Kindergarten through fourth grade to augment the 700 pupils in grades five through twelve currently being taught on 8th Street, N.W.  The most significant portion of the questioning of Basis representatives came from PCSB board member Steve Bumbaugh.  He revealed that for the last three weeks he had been studying the student enrollment data at the charter and he frankly found the numbers to be “concerning.”  For example, he discovered that across the charter sector in D.C. 79 percent of students are economically disadvantaged but at Basis this number is 17 percent.  Again, he observed, overall for charters 15 percent of pupils are classified as Special Education and at Basis this number is less than five percent.  Moreover, at Basis less than 10 percent of kids are found to be At Risk while for charters that statistic is 51 percent.  Finally, Mr. Bumbaugh explained that charters are characterized by  student populations that include 7 percent English Language Learners while at Basis this percentile is zero.

In other words, the fear that I expressed years ago that Basis would create a school in the nation’s capital that ignored the original charter bargain to take care of those students often left behind by the traditional schools has become a reality.  As you may recall I was asked by Basis creators Michael and Olga Block to become a founding board member of the franchise here.  But after speaking with them, and learning more about the school, I gathered that it was not an institution intent on fulfilling the charter promise.  After some contentious PCSB meetings, and assurances from Basis that this was not the case, the original charter application was approved.

Basis has delineated that its strategic mission is to expand by opening private schools where there is no charter law like it did in McLean, Virginia,  and to use public money to build its enrollment where charters exist. However, this is not what our movement is all about.  The Basis representatives made clear that there would be no change in direction in the population of children being served since they imagine that the new campuses would be located in Ward 1 or 2, not in Anacostia as one of the board members suggested.  This replication request should be denied.

Tom Nida to receive Exceptional Service Award

Tonight at the monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board my friend Tom Nida will receive the organization’s Award for Exceptional Service.

Mr. Nida was chairman of the PCSB for six years from 2004 to 2010.  His term was characterized by explosive growth of our local charter school movement, with enrollment jumping during his period by an incredible 25 percent a term.  He was a towering strong force on the board, who teamed with PCSB executive director Josephine Baker, also an Exceptional Service Award winner, to develop a great number of the systems and processes that have led the PCSB to become recognized as the nation’s leading charter school authorizer.  Many of the operational ground rules for charters he and the board had to develop in real time since there was no precedent anywhere for the rules under which these schools should operate.   The movement at this point was so young.  The first charter school had only opened in Washington D.C. in 2006.

But I would not be telling the entire story if I talked only about enrollment increases.  Mr. Nida also cared deeply about quality.  The PCSB closed schools that were not performing at a high level, which mostly revolved around financial stability.   If he got wind that a school was deviating from its mission to improve the academic performance of the kids within its walls, Mr. Nida famously held one of his “Come to Jesus” meetings with the school’s board to right the ship.  You did not want to be in one of those sessions.

Mr. Nida was passionate about his volunteer position, perhaps because he was a witness to what was happening with the city’s traditional schools.  Having proudly graduated from Anacostia High School, it must have deeply pained him to see the decrepit state that the traditional schools had become, with buildings that were literally crumbling down, little actual teaching taking place in the classrooms, and drugs and violence filling the hallways.

Mr. Nida was also the first person who agreed to sit down with me for one of my “exclusive interviews.”  These were some of the most enjoyable times in my life.  We had never officially met, but over cocktails and appetizers that Mr. Nida refused to allow me to pay for, we discussed every aspect of charter schools’ governance.  Mr. Nida taught me the importance of the work of nonprofit boards and he has an understanding of facility financing that I’m sure no one one can equal.  Often, I had to simply put down my pen and think about the information that just passed through his lips so I could grasp what he was telling me.  One question I asked turned into dozens more.  The information was especially valuable because over the years that I met with him I was the chairman of two charter school boards and interviewed many public school reform leaders.

Congratulations Mr. Nida for a job well done.

Donald Hense Day at the D.C. Council

Yesterday, thanks to the effort of Councilperson Yvette Alexander, the D.C. Council proclaimed yesterday, October 11, 2016, Donald Hense Day.  Mr. Hense is, of course, the founder and until this school year the executive director of Friendship Public Charter School.  He remains the chairman of its board of directors.  The proclamation comes as Friendship is about to mark twenty years since the original charter was written.

The recognition is extremely well deserved.  As a wrote on the occasion of his retirement party last summer:

“Friendship has grown to 11 campuses teaching over 4,200 children.  In addition, there are two partnership schools in Baltimore and one in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  99 percent of Friendship’s student population is African-American with 75 percent qualifying for free or reduced price meals.  Three out of four pupils live in Wards 7 and 8.  15 percent are special education students.

Three of Friendship’s campuses are now classified as Tier 1 on the DC Public Charter School’s Performance Management Framework.  Friendship’s four-year high school graduate rate is around 95 percent, much higher than DCPS’s 64 percent and the overall rate of charters at 72 percent.

Over 95 percent of its 2,500 high school graduates have gone on to college.  Through Friendship’s efforts these students have been awarded over $40 million in scholarships.”

This next statement is no exaggeration.  If it were not for Donald Hense many poor African-American children would have ended up in jail or would not be alive today.  Instead, he is sending these scholars off to college.  His contribution to our city and to public education nationally cannot be underestimated.

The award comes at a perfect moment.  As the editors of the Washington Post note today, on October 15th the board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is set to vote on a resolution that calls for a moratorium on charter schools. The creation of the resolution sparked a reaction by 160 education leaders across America that calls for the NAACP to reject the move.

Among those in the nation’s capital that oppose the action by the NAACP are Peter Anderson, head of school Washington Latin PCS; Patricia Brantley, CEO Friendship PCS; Dr. Marco Clark, CEO Richard Wright PCS; Diane Cottman, executive director Latin American Montessori Bilingual PCS; Jami Dunham, CEO Paul PCS; Dr. Ramona Edelin, executive director D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools; Brian Jones, chair National Alliance for Public Charter School and D.C. Prep board member; Linda Moore, founder and senior advisor Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community PCS; the late Cassandra Pinkney, founder and executive director Eagle Academy PCS; Dr. Joe Smith, COO and CFO Eagle Academy PCS; Deborah Dantzler Williams, head of school Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS; and Shantelle Wright, CEO Achievement Prep PCS.

Donald Hense was also a signatory to the letter.  But that is only logical.  A moratorium would be a direct refutation of the life’s work of our local hero.

The Fight for Children Family Engagement Conference

Last Thursday I had the tremendous opportunity, along with about 160 teachers from DCPS, charters, and private schools, to attend Fight for Children’s Family Engagement Conference offered in partnership with the Flamboyan Foundation.  It was held in the sophisticated FHI 360 Conference Center.  For years I have been familiar with the impressive work of the Flamboyan Foundation, and its emphasis on improving parental engagement in their children’s academic life through teacher home visits.  But on this morning I saw the organization’s contributions from a different level.

During the event I sat in on a packed Anti-Bias Family breakout session where I was exposed to some startling facts.  For example, it was explained that the schools serving the most African -American and Latino Students are twice as likely to employ teachers who are new to the profession.  In addition, it was revealed that in 2011, black girls were suspended 18 percent more than Caucasian girls and were 48 percent more likely to be suspended from school more than once.  It was pointed out that it is statistics such as these that led former United States Education Secretary to remark that “The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise. It is our collective duty to change that.”

Participants also learned the difference between equality and equity.  Equality, according to the moderators of the seminar, refers to having the same opportunity.  But equity, as I was soon to discover, means a freedom from bias or favoritism.  We spent time in groups discussing one of the many “Equity Scenarios” that hung on walls around the room.  These were imagined situations that could take place in the classroom. The exercise was exceptionally useful in helping us identify our own prejudices that we hold either implicitly or explicitly.  The major theme of the workshop was to investigate ways in which the instructors can support the five family roles that accelerate student learning.  These were identified as communicate high expectations, monitor the child’s performance, support learning, guide the child’s education, and advocate for the child.

I moved from the conference room to an adjoining space to hear a talk entitled “Difficult Conversations – How to Preserve Trust.”  During group discussions, role playing, and lectures by a DCPS teacher and Flamboyan staff member we covered the components of effective reactive communication, learned how to develop an action plan to prepare for future reactive communications, and most importantly, were exposed to strategies to maintain a positive relationship when having difficult conversations with families.  All of this was supported by a detailed documented reactive communication process protocol.  In addition, the subject of how difficult conversations relate to equity issues was intertwined throughout the conversation.

The members of the audience, including Fight for Children CEO and president Michela English and the executive director of the Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School Erika Bryant, were eager participants and demonstrated a serene seriousness in trying to absorb as much information as possible.  There was also much laughter.

My main takeaway from this complimentary conference for the heroes that are educating children living in poverty in the nation’s capital is that Washington, D.C. is exceedingly fortunate to have groups like Fight for children and the Flamboyan Foundation providing highly valuable professional development for our public school teachers.  With continued efforts such as this the academic achievement gap will one day soon be a thing of the past.

Cassandra Pinkney, founder and executive director Eagle Academy PCS, passes away

A week ago, Cassandra Pinkney, the founder and executive director of Eagle Academy Public Charter School, passed away.  The news was shocking in that I saw her less than a year ago present at an event held by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Ms. Pinkney created Eagle Academy which enrolls over 700 students on two campuses in Southeast, Washington, D.C.  The charter focuses on early childhood education.  In early 2014 I toured the Congress Heights Campus.  To say I was impressed may be the understatement of the decade.  In honor of Ms. Pinkney and Mr. Joe Smith, whom I’m confident will expertly guide the school going forward, here is what I wrote:

Last Friday I had the extremely fortunate opportunity to spend the morning over at Eagle Academy Public Charter School’s McGogney Campus in Ward 8.  My hosts for the day were principle Jeffery Cline and Joe Smith, the school’s chief financial officer and chief operating officer.  It turns out that I had met Mr. Smith almost a decade earlier as a founding board member of the William E. Doar, Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts.  He had served as the consultant that worked with Julie Doar-Sinkfield and other volunteers to write the charter for the school in the living room of her basement apartment.

The two men could not have been more proud about the school they are serving.  With each new doorway we entered it was as if they were seeing the space for the first time, although it became clear during my visit that they spend almost all of their waking hours within these walls.  It is easy to be overtaken with the building.  Eagle Academy spent almost $20 million more than a year ago renovating the former DCPS McGogney Elementary, and it definitely shows.  The large rectangular panels composing the walls colored in shades of ocean blue and white make it appear that you are entering an aquarium.  The design provides a welcoming environment for the student body.  I arrived as kids came in for the before school program and I can attest that not one of these young scholars strolled into the sun filled gymnasium.  All ran with broad smiles on their faces as if today was the luckiest day of their lives.  The sight of these young people equipped with backpacks almost as big as their bodies immediately brought tears to my eyes.

But there was little time for emotion.  The rapid fire tour started with the gym and progressed to the facility’s lower level.  There I saw something I’m sure few charters are fortunate enough to posses; two swimming pools located side by side.  The pools were built, according to Mr. Smith, “to provide those who would never have the opportunity the chance to learn how to swim.”  On the same level were a soon to be equipped fitness center for the staff and an arts room for the students.  Outside of the space are two playgrounds, one build by 300 KABOOM volunteers including members of the Washington Wizard, Mystics, and Capitals.

Mr. Cline pointed out that Eagle has successfully taken an emphasis on a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and turned it into STEAM by integrating the arts.  Leading this effort is an arts education integration specialist the school hired from the Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts.

As the before school program ended a teacher escorted children to their classrooms carrying an armful of IPads.  It turns out that Eagle Academy has invested over $500,000 to provide each of its 728 Pre-Kindergarten 3 to 3rd grade pupils with one of these devices.  The teachers also utilize this technology.  In a Pre-K 3 class I witness a teacher working with one student utilizing an IPAD application focused on learning the alphabet.  Each space has access to a Smartboard.  Flat panel monitors are located throughout the building.

It is far from a fad that these products are provided for the children.  Everything done at Eagle Academy is strictly intentional as a mean of raising the academic achievement of kids harmed by the effects of poverty.  75 percent of the student body quality for free or reduced lunch.

Classes are exceedingly small, ranging in size from 20 students to one teacher in grades Kindergarten to 3, with aids often augmenting the work of the instructors.  The lower levels are ratios are even tighter with three year olds at 16 students to one teacher and an aid, and four year olds experiencing classrooms of 18 kids to one teacher and one aid.

The focus on raising the quality of learning is present in every part of the school.  Cameras tape record every class, not as a way of spying on teachers but as a powerful tool professionals and the school’s four full-time coaches can take advantage of to improve the presentation of lesson plans.  Graphs and data dashboards surround me as I made my way through the brightly colored halls.  Some indicated a particular grades proficiency percentage in math and reading.  Others related to all visitors where the school is in reference to its overall goals such as rates for pupil re-enrolment and parent satisfaction.  Want to know what kids are supposed to have learned during a particular week?  The standards are posted at the entrance to classroom as objectives to be mastered. Formal assessments measure student progress throughout the school year.  Data specialists assist teachers daily in tracking pupil scholastic levels.

The school founded in 2003 has always accepted students with disabilities up to Level 4, the highest category.  Services are readily available for these children.  A sensory room complete with pulleys and other gymnastic equipment allow an occupational therapist to assist with motor skills.  Speech pathologists and mental health workers share a wing of the building where they care for the 120 kids with Individual Education Plans.  Mr. Kline related that Eagle follows the inclusionary model in regard to their special education students, placing them in regular classrooms as often as possible.

But there are also comprehensive services available for the entire student body.  The principal and CFO explain that staff social workers work with kids and their guardians to increase their chance of success at the charter.  An on-site dental clinic and two staff nurses care for the health of their kids.  A parent liaison and community outreach coordinators are present to smooth the transition between time at the school and at home.  Programs encourage grownups to come in to learn about various aspects of the curriculum.  Parents are surveyed to understand the best means to communicate information about their offspring.

We stop for a few minutes in the multipurpose room.  There Mr. Cline relates that his staff has recognized that they have a captive audience during the lunch period.  He pushes a button and a screen the size of those found in old time grand movie houses descends from the ceiling.  The principal shows me the microphone that he and his teachers use to reinforce academic lessons learned throughout the day.  In one such exercise his instructors dress in costumes to assume the identity of characters from books the children have read.  Kids are then asked to recall aspects of the material to which they have been exposed

After my visit has concluded I travel in my car through the streets of Anacostia on my way to work.  At some point an automobile is in front of me whose driver must send at least one child to Eagle Academy.  I know this because of the bumper sticker on the back of the car.  It says simply “Eagle Academy, Starting Early and Soaring High.”  I’m totally convinced that this is exactly what this charter school is doing.

Exclusive interview with Dr. Darren Woodruff, chair DC Public Charter School Board

It has been a little over a year since I interviewed Dr. Darren Woodruff, the chair of the DC Public Charter School Board, so I was extremely gratified that I recently had a second chance to talk with him.  I recalled that the last time we met one of his goals as chair was to increase the amount of information available to parents about schools prior to enrolling their children.  I asked if progress had been made in this area.  “The PCSB,” Dr. Woodruff replied, “has created a parent advisory group that has been revamped and strengthened under Tomeika Bowden, the director of communications.  She has worked to increase the geographic diversity of its membership.  The group is the primary vehicle for two-way conversations between the board and parents.  Of course, as part of the process to open a new charter, school applicants are encouraged to reach out to the community and groups like the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions to receive input and hear concerns.”

When I asked the PCSB chair how things are going for D.C.’s charter sector he expressed a couple of concerns.  “It is highly disappointing that we did not get a funding increase for the facility allotment,” Dr. Woodruff responded.  “Charters had asked the Council for Fiscal year 2017 to bring the facility allotment to $3,250 per child with built-in increases for inflation from $3,124 a pupil where it has been for years.  In addition, there is still a mysterious process around the release of surplus DCPS buildings to charters.  The PCSB has a tremendous relationship with David Grosso, the chairman of the D.C. Council’s Education Committee; Jennie Niles, the Deputy Mayor for Education; and Mayor Bowser.  What we really need is a reliable funding stream and a predictable procedure for the acquisition of vacant facilities.  I would place both of these issues at the top of our priority list.”

I then wanted to learn from Dr. Woodruff about progress regarding the D.C. Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force.  “We have had about several meetings and we are a year into the schedule,” he revealed.  “We have really been focused on getting to know one another.  There are many people there from DCPS that we really didn’t know before the group was formed.  We have begun looking hard at student mobility.  We’re aware that some students leave a charter school in midyear.  Mobility is a challenge because currently charters do not receive supplemental funding if a student enters the school after the annual count in October.  No decisions have been made, but charter school representatives on the task force have emphasized the importance of funding support for students who move across schools. No decision has yet been made.”

Dr. Woodruff continued, “I think that as a city we should make it as easy as possible for kids to be admitted either to charters or DCPS. Right now we don’t have a comprehensive handle on the reason students are leaving.”

I then asked Dr. Woodruff what he would like to see come out of the Task Force’s work.  He answered without hesitation.  “We need to seriously address academic outcomes and the achievement gap.  We have to return to the original promise of charters that we can provide all children, no matter their background, a first rate public education.  We must identify innovations in schools and replicate them among both charter and DCPS classrooms.  There are high performing charters in all of the Wards in which they operate and there must be serious conversations about how they got to where they are so that others can learn what they know.  We need a much more aggressive push toward academic excellence for all students.  A lot of this must be based upon trust between charters and DCPS.  We have made slow steady progress over the last 20 years but we desperately need transformational progress.”

Since Dr. Woodruff expressed that we have not yet made an acceptable level of academic progress, I inquired as to whether the PCSB should raise the bar for a school to be rated at Tier 1 or Tier 2 on the School Quality Reports  that are based upon the Performance Management Framework tool.  “No,” Dr. Woodruff stated, “I don’t believe we should raise the bar.  There has to be an increased level of drilling down by school leaders to determine what works and what doesn’t.  Then the right resources and interventions need to be made to support the appropriate instructional programs so that children are learning at high levels. This is especially important if year after year students are not progressing. “

Next, I reviewed with the PCSB chair my observation that the number of new applications for charters has dwindled to one or two a cycle.  I asked him if his organization was concerned with this trend.  “Yes, we have noticed,” Dr. Woodruff commented.  “At the same time we have added campuses of strong charters such as DC Prep, Two Rivers, and KIPP DC.  Other schools are currently investigating replication.  While this is occurring, Scott Pearson, the PCSB executive director, has been encouraging other operators from across the country to open schools in our city.”

When this interview took place DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson had just left her position.  I wanted to know from him what her legacy would be.  Dr. Woodruff answered, “Kaya was an extremely strong leader.  She was the right person at the right time.  You have to remember that when she came in office there was a lack of confidence in the traditional school system.  Few parents wanted to send their kids there.  Under her direction, enrollment has climbed, standardized test scores went up, and most recently, the four-year high school graduation rate jumped by five percentage points.  I applaud her accomplishments.”

“However,” the PCSB chair added, “we need to step it up several notches.  We have to make sure all kids are benefiting from this renaissance.  Progress has been great for affluent and middle class kids and for some low income students, but not all.  The new Chancellor should strive to ensure that all pupils can obtain a quality education, and the person selected for this role will have to work across sectors to make this a reality.”

I concluded my time with Dr. Woodruff by asking him for the major accomplishment of the PCSB over the last 20 years and what he would like to see for public education in the District in coming years.  He responded without hesitation.  “I think that our biggest accomplishment,” he opined, “besides having 44 percent of all children in public schools now attending a charter, is that we now have applied the Performance Management Framework across the entire length of our portfolio.  We have the early childhood, elementary, middle school PMF’s, as well as one for schools teaching adults.  In addition we have added an Alternative Accountability Framework.  When you ask about the future I guess the one thing I am really interested in seeing is one rubric that looks at the quality of all schools, both charter and traditional.  I don’t believe it is right that parents have to understand different measures for schools governed under different structures.”